Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their life; it’s a normal part of being a human. However, everyone learns to cope with their anxiety in different ways. Some people cope by talking about their struggles, some use physical exercise as an outlet, and others do whatever they can to numb their feelings. Further, those who chose to self-medicate anxiety through substance use can actually be making their anxiety worse. Before we determine the different ways that substance use can impact anxiety, we first need to examine the basics.
MedlinePlus explains, “Substance use is the continued use of alcohol, illegal drugs, or the misuse of prescription or over-the-counter drugs with negative consequences.” The article details that common substances used can include:
Untreated substance use can quickly turn into substance use disorder (SUD). As the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) confirms, “Substance use disorder (SUD) is a treatable mental disorder that affects a person’s brain and behavior, leading to their inability to control their use of substances like legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, or medications.” Due to the effects of the substances used, a person’s ability to make good, healthy decisions can be impacted greatly. Furthermore, recurrent substance use has an undeniable impact on an individual’s physical, emotional, and mental health.
Feelings of anxiousness and stress are common feelings that everyone experiences at some point. The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) confirms that while it’s normal for everyone to feel these feelings, for some, such feelings can become a significant problem. As the VA states, “Feeling a certain amount of stress and fear is intrinsic to human survival. With anxiety, people’s normal fear responses are thrown off; the sympathetic fight or flight response is active to the point where it impedes healthy functioning.”
There is an important distinction between normal anxious feelings and anxiety disorders. Determining what level of anxiety a person has may play a key role in getting to the root of their substance use.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) details, “Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or fear about an event or situation. It’s normal for people to feel anxious in response to stress.” This type of anxiety is typically temporary and circumstantial, which means it will go away after the stressful event has concluded. Examples of this type of anxiety can include the feelings before taking a test or making a presentation at work. The lead-up to the event can feel stressful, however, the anxious feelings subside afterward.
However, for some, anxiety is constant and unrelenting. If left untreated, symptoms can worsen and inform the development of an anxiety disorder. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) explains, “Anxiety disorders affect nearly 1 in 5 American adults each year. People with these disorders have feelings of fear and uncertainty that interfere with everyday activities and last for 6 months or more.” While it is not known what causes anxiety disorders, MedlinePlus explains that the following factors can influence anxiety disorders:
Further, MedlinePlus also describes several variations of anxiety disorders, including:
Any type of anxiety can produce uncomfortable feelings and physical responses, as well as put stress on relationships. This is especially true if the anxiety is not dealt with healthily.
Substance use is often a symptom of something deeper, such as a mental disorder. When SUD and a mental health disorder occur together, it is referred to as a co-occurring disorder. NIMH explains that people who use substances often do so to numb the discomfort they feel from their mental disorder. However, as NIMH states, “Although some drugs may temporarily help with some symptoms of mental disorders, they may make the symptoms worse over time.” They go on to explain, “Additionally, brain changes in people with mental disorders may enhance the rewarding effects of substances, making it more likely they will continue to use the substance.”
It is important to note that not everyone with a mental disorder will turn to substance use to find relief. However, statistics show that the two are often intertwined, especially if certain factors are in play. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains, “Both substance use disorders and other mental illnesses are caused by overlapping factors such as genetic and epigenetic vulnerabilities, issues with similar areas of the brain, and environmental influences such as early exposure to stress or trauma.”
Similar to how both mental disorders and substance use can share common influences, they can also affect similar parts of the brain. This can make diagnosing difficult, as many symptoms and side effects of each condition overlap.
Here at Sage Recovery, we understand the complexities that go along with anxiety, overall mental health, trauma, and substance use. Our masters-level clinicians are experts in knowing how to help patients heal healthily from these complicated, intertwined elements. Healing is possible through evidence-based techniques such as:
Additionally, we also offer innovative therapeutic techniques, such as:
If you’re struggling with getting your substance use and anxiety under control, we can help. Here at Sage Recovery, we specialize in helping people heal from substance use, anxiety, and everything in between. Whether you need outpatient treatment, residential treatment, an intensive outpatient program, or a partial hospitalization program, we’ve got you covered. Our staff members are extensively trained to provide trauma-informed care, so you can know that you’ll be treated with dignity and respect as you heal. Our customizable treatment plans ensure that you will receive care as unique as you are, so you can become your healthiest self. Reach out to us at (512) 306-1394 when you’re ready to begin healing. We’re here for you.